How two teens from across the globe became lifelong friends

. October 1, 2017.
Annika Hockman (L), 16, host sister, with Christine Devriel (R), 17, exchange student from Germany. The two lived and learned together for an entire school year.
Annika Hockman (L), 16, host sister, with Christine Devriel (R), 17, exchange student from Germany. The two lived and learned together for an entire school year.

From Zetel, Germany, a town slightly larger than Ann Arbor, but with 90 percent less population, Christine Devriel spent the 2016-2017 school year as an exchange student with Youth For Understanding. She and her host sister, Annika Hockman, had many more similarities than their cultural backgrounds would lead on, and it was clear they developed a bond that will hold long after the exchange program ends.

I asked them to chat about what they have learned from each other, as well as about themselves in this past year.

Why an exchange program and what similarities or differences stood out?

Christine: I have studied English since third grade and had an exchange student from America in my school, who said this country was great. In Germany, I live with my parents and a dog. Here, I live with Annika and her grandmother, and three dogs. I noticed in America, “How are you?” is used more in passing. In Germany, we really want to know how someone is. Also, I was told the American school system was very easy, but I disagree. There are so many points added and taken off of assignments, it gets very complicated. Our daily schedules are different, too. In Germany, we rotate through 12 subjects in a week and stay with the same group of 30 students in each class, for nearly the entire schooling career.

Annika: We never hosted before, but I had friends who were exchange students and I have been thinking about going abroad. My grandmother and I applied and it happened really fast!

What did you do for fun this year?

Annika: We went to Disney and Universal, Frankenmuth, museums in Detroit, and will go to The Henry Ford before Christine leaves.

Christine: We are both involved in the 4-H Puppy Patrol Club.

Annika: I am the president of the Club and I also enjoy horseback riding, showing my dogs, and hope to start volunteering with a therapeutic horseback riding program.

Christine: In Germany, I train dogs to rescue people from emergency situations. I also dance in the “Musik und Showband Grabstede”, which is similar to a marching band’s color guard, but involves some cheerleading.

What have you learned from the program or from each other?

Christine: I recommend participating in an exchange program. You will not get the opportunity again. I have been able to see the world with different eyes, see different styles, characters, and accept people without judgment. When I go home, I will still have three years of school, then plan to go to college and study insurance and money management and get a high-level job at a bank.

Annika: I enjoyed having Christine this year and doing so many activities together. I really want to go somewhere. I am interested in Europe or Japan. I was born in Japan and our Latin class went to Greece and Italy. After I graduate, I would like to either go into animal science or international law.